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A brief history of Michigan football ticket prices

[ 44 ] June 18, 2013 |

Bo Woody

Here’s the price of a regular admission (not student) University of Michigan football ticket over time.

(All figures are in 2012 dollars, rounded to the nearest dollar. I couldn’t find 1970 and 1980 so I substituted the nearest available year).

1900: $27

1910: $48

1920: $29

1930: $41

1940: $45

1950: $34

1960: $35

1969: $38

1981: $30

1990: $35

2000: $47

Notes:

(1) Ticket prices remained remarkably stable between 1950 and 1990, even though attendance skyrocketed during the second half of this period. In the 1950s and 1960s average attendance for home games tended to be in the 50,000 to 70,000 range for most games, usually with one annual 100,000 full house against either Michigan State or Ohio State. By the mid-1970s every game was drawing 100,000+.

(2) Starting about 20 years ago, the athletic department decided to “monetize” this demand, as they say in the business schools. Current ticket prices are hard to list straightforwardly, because like so many other things they’ve been stratified into different tranches, as they say at Goldman Sachs. Anyway, the “base” price of tickets is now $65, but the real average ticket price is about double that, because as of 2005 Michigan finally jumped into the private seat license game. The way this works is that if you want a season ticket (almost all tickets are sold as season tickets) you have to first buy the right to buy the ticket, by buying a PSL. These range from $75 for end zone seats to $600 for prime seats. Here’s how it works for a seat on the 15-yard line — that is, more or less an “average” ticket:

Season ticket: $455 ($65 per game for seven games)

PSL: $450

Actual price per ticket: $129

(Because of our amazing tax code, 80% of the PSL is deductible as a charitable contribution to the university, so depending on your tax bracket the “real” price might be more like $110).

For a 50-yard line seat the price is more in the neighborhood of $160 per ticket per game, i.e., a more than quadrupling of the price from what it was 20 years ago in real terms.

All this ignores the world of the one percenters, who since 2010 have been able to purchase luxury suites (demurely referred to as “enclosed seating” by UM’s administrators) at a current annual lease price of $60,000 to $90,000. Each suite holds up to 16 people; however, if you lease one you still have to buy game tickets for anyone who you wish to help ascend to these celestial realms. For the lesser nobility, “club” seating is available at $1,500 to $4,000 per season ticket (club seats are outside, but are protected from some of nature’s fury by being directly beneath the luxury suites, which seems metaphorically appropriate.)

(3) Salary of Michigan’s head football coach, in 2012 dollars:

1969: $131,000

1981: $168,000

2012: $3.25 million

Update: See also

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  1. This is an interesting article on the subject as well.

    • They appear to have monetized themselves right to the line of fan tolerance and quite possibly over it. Last season, one of the oldest of the many (many, many) Michigan blogs out there ran an experiment to see if StubHub or the athletic department was the better way to get tickets, and StubHub won handily in pretty much every seating area:

      http://michiganzone.blogspot.com/2012/11/stubhub-vs-season-tickets-iowa-and.html

      There are some caveats, there always are, but the long and the short of it is that they’ve made things so expensive to purchase directly that it’s now routinely cheaper to scalp your way into the game. Then there’s the fact that they’ve destroyed the game day experience with everything from crappy pumped in music to making it really hard to get free water in the name of squeezing every dime, and sitting at home with the flatscreen looks better and better every year.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Frankly, I don’t get the idea of going to a football game live. It is a terrible way to see a football game. Television is infinitely better, if you want to actually see what happened. So presumably the whole point of going in person is for the group experience. I sort of get that, but it is at the cost of actually seeing the game, as opposed to sort of seeing the result of the various plays (unless you watch the jumbotron, of course). So I conclude that this is for people who are prepared to pay a great deal for a group experience, but who don’t much care about seeing the game.

        For those who want both, I suggest finding a good sports bar.

        • Manju says:

          No No, sit high up and get the manju-eye point of view. From this vantagepoint, you see things before they occur.

          So, for example, you spot a huge opening in the D. On TV, you’d be watching the RB carrying the ball. You can’t see what’s 10 feet ahead of him. But in the stands you know what the RB has to do.

          Ever play QB? Its chaos on the ground. But from the sky its all poetry. You can see the patterns. If a guy is wide open, you won’t see that on TV until the replay….because the camera’s on the QB. But from the stands you are all like; “look, Randy Moss is wide fucking open… can’t you fucking see him Tebow!

          • witless chum says:

            Yup, especially in the era of giant stadium videoscreens that show you the TV replays. The problem with college stadiums is no beer and security theater.

            • Manju says:

              Plus, high-up is cheaper than down-low.

              I actually prefer that vantage point for almost all sports (tennis appears to be the exception). Its just different. But for football, it actually provides a better point of view.

        • Section 1 says:

          Frankly, I don’t get the idea of going to a football game live. It is a terrible way to see a football game. Television is infinitely better, if you want to actually see what happened.

          Spoken like someone who hasn’t been to a football game; at least not in a long time. Or, like someone who doesn’t know much or care much about technical football.

          Television doesn’t show the whole field. You don’t see all 22 players. You see only what the camera shows, and often through the filter of whatever storyline the producers and directors want to impose.

          Going to the games myself, I am often amazed by the differing reactions of fans who were there, versus those who watched on television. Going to the games is the best of all worlds. I see the game live, for myself. There are replays (there should be more; technology would certainly allow it) on the Stadium video boards. Then, later, I can usually see a replay of the telecast on the Big Ten Network.

          In other words, I miss absolutely nothing about the game. But you, Richard, would seem to miss an awful lot of what I see on a Saturday. Watching HDTV might work for you, if you are a casual fan who can only name about four players on the team, and a week later all you can remember is who won, and what a handful of skill-position players did on a handful of scoring plays. You got to see the scores, and detailed replays of the scores. Which I will also watch, later.

  2. It’s been kind of a long day, so I guess I should just assume that there’s a point buried somewhere in there that I keep overlooking?

    • Warren Terra says:

      So, you completely missed the part where what was once an activity put on by a university involving students, well-paid but not obscenely-paid staff performing a service as part of the community, and manageable ticket prices has now become a cutthroat profit-maximizing business that has no interest in students, that pays massive salaries to top executives and staffers, and ticket prices that have quadrupled in real dollars? That maybe such an enterprise has no business being affiliated with the educational mission of UM, nor with state government?

      OK then. Good to know you missed all that. Do you have any friends who can safely guide you home despite your inability to perceive obvious things like traffic signals and buses, and maybe pad all the edges and corners and confiscate all the sharp objects in your house?

      • mpowell says:

        The student section is a different deal with most teams, Michigan as well, I’m sure. Just to be accurate.

        • Warren Terra says:

          My “no interest in students” was more about the athletes than the spectators. Although, if you think the profit-maximizers aren’t coming for the student sections of the bleachers, you’re touchingly trusting.

          • mpowell says:

            The student section is part of what gives the home team an advantage and helps win games. The coaches understand this. The bean counters may get out of hand so no promises on what will happen, but profit maximization actually requires the student section to exist.

            • Jordan says:

              not to mention, I would bet, that a lot of the people who pay the normal price season tickets are former student section attendees.

              • And that a good chunk of the premium other ticket holders are paying is a result of the cut-rate price students pay for them.

                I still have no idea why anyone is supposed to be crying over what people are paying for tickets to elite football program games.

                • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

                  Don’t like the topic? Don’t read the post.

                • Jordan says:

                  Why in the world would you assume that? Of all the things that expensive tickets are paying for *that* is what you think a “good chunk” of the revenue is being used for? Bullshit.

                  No one is supposed to be “crying,” dickhead.

  3. Scott Lemieux says:

    Clearly, this data must be wrong. After all, Slate has informed me that since the players are unpaid tickets must be free, and all the money generated by Michigan football must go to medical care for the poor.

  4. Monday Night Frotteur says:

    I’m always a little surprised people aren’t more outraged at the ridiculous exploitation of college football and basketball players. Everything about college sports is “market-oriented” except the shitty agreement to cap players’ (the poorest, yet most important, members of the entire industry) wages.

    Dave Brandon makes about $1 million/year as Michigan’s AD. What did Don Canham make?

    • Warren Terra says:

      Oh, it’s much, much worse than that. The distorting effect of “collegiate sports” propaganda distorts lives in middle and high school, deluding people into pursuing a hopeless athletic goal that they have been deceived into thinking offers them at least the chance of a decent education. The exploitation of the people who pass enough hurdles to suit up for televised games is the tip of the iceberg.

  5. Barry Getmann says:

    And in conclusion, greedy players are the cause of high ticket prices and therefore we must destroy the union.

  6. advocatethis@yahoo.com says:

    The first time I encountered PSLs was when Al Davis brought his traveling freak show back to Oakland in the 90s and anyone wishing to buy season tickets to see the chronically mediocre (seems like a golden age, in retrospect) Raiduhs in our publicly funded and operated stadium had to first buy a PSL, one for each seat. Raider fans, setting a new standard for self-loathing among sports fans, went along with the deal.

    • Green Caboose says:

      Prior to Oakland PSLs were “Permanent Seat Licenses” and were used to fund (partially) new stadia. A PSL owner thus had a permanent right to buy season tickets as long as the team played in that stadium, and the PSL could be sold to another buyer.

      It was Davis who changed the name to “Personal Seat Licenses”. IIRC in Oakland the idea was that a PSL gave you a right to buy tickets for 10 years. At the time we thought this was just another crazy Davis stunt, but apparently it is now a standard mode of operation.

      Of course, the Raider faithful have to be the best example of battered fan syndrome. First, Davis moved the team to SoCal despite regular sellouts in Oakland in pursuit of more seats per game … and in the process although 10s of thousands of Oakland season ticket holders were willing to buy season tickets in LA they were told to go to the back of the line. Many of them did, getting worse seats for more money and having to travel 6 hours south for games.

      Davis overestimated just how attractive his team of thugs were to football fans outside of Oakland and they infrequently sold out the coliseum, so he kept trying to get a stadium deal elsewhere in SoCal. Never did get a deal, probably because he was such a conniving little shit. Eventually he returned to Oakland, apparently (per his testimony at the later trial for the lawsuit he filed) he thought he had a verbal, unwritten promise to cover any revenue shortfalls.

      And what did this mean for the faithful Oakland fans? Well, many of them got screwed again. Based on the team’s regular sellouts before the move to LA it was widely assumed that they’d sell out again – even at the exhorbitant new prices. Many of the faithful were so worried they’d be locked out that they submitted applications for more seats than they needed or could pay for – with non-refundable deposits of course. Well, turns out that they did NOT sell PSLs for all available seats and those fans who’d put down deposits on extra seats were stuck. Most just had to kiss their deposits goodbye.

      And yet, ’til the end most of those fans were convinced that Al Davis was right and that the Raiders many failures were due to outside causes.

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        You forget Al’s greatest triumph, getting Irwindale to pay him $10 million just to consider it as a site for a new stadium. No strings, just 10 mill to “think” about it. Wow.

  7. mpowell says:

    How is the PSL deductible? Why wouldn’t the IRS decide, “looks like you’re buying a ticket to us” and refuse to allow deductibility? Anyhow, as long as they still fill the stadium, I have no problem with expensive tickets. Schools can figure out the tradeoff between noisy students and paying customers as they choose. The unpaid atheletes on the other hand…

    • JREinATL says:

      Yeah, I kind of shrug at this kind of stuff. If I had my druthers we’d completely do away with Division 1 sports as we know them. But since society has apparently decided that they’d rather have sports, I don’t really have a problem with charging what the market will bear.

      Also, I don’t care about football, so I don’t care about the effect on “the game day experience” either. Vote with your feet, guys.

      (This is a separate issue from an employee of a public university making millions of dollars, which is, obviously, unconscionable.)

    • How is the PSL deductible?

      Here at Oregon State it’s a “donation” to the BASF — Beaver Athletic Scholarship Fund — that just conveniently happens to also get you the ability to buy a seat. I imagine it’s the same everywhere, and yeah, it seems like a total scam.

      Students get in free. Well “free” if they wait in line all night a few nights before the game to get one of the 6000 or so student tickets to the 40,000 seat stadium.

      • Linnaeus says:

        In my first year at Oregon State, student admission to football games truly was free. Just had to show your ID at the gate.

        • Yep, I remember those days too. It’s pretty crazy now, the stadium is routinely full, and the students actually get in fights in the “free” ticket line over whether somebody “cut” or not. They oversell all the staff/student parking lots for $20-60 per game for tailgating now too. I had never even heard of tailgating before.

          And they continually build shiny new sports facilities — there’s a brand new (covered) football practice field, a shiny new athlete-only training facility, etc.

          Meanwhile the rest of campus is crumbling around us. Well, admittedly, there are a couple new academic buildings, but those all have their own special constituency too.

      • mpowell says:

        But here’s the thing: the ticket isn’t deductible. Payments that you make to a non-profit aren’t deductible if you are getting something in return. The PSL seems like a straightforward case to me of just being part of buying the ticket. I don’t understand why the IRS is so acquiescent.

  8. Fake Irishman says:

    Incidentally, I wrote a bit more about the subject of tax deductions and “charitable donations” to the athletic departments through purchasing luxury seating here.

    I just called all the Big-10 football people and inquired to come up with that figure of $17 million for the Big-10 football games in luxury and club seating ALONE. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my spreadsheet spit out that number. (Michigan isn’t even the worst in the Big 10; it’s that other school) Adding the other power sports and power conferences in drastically increases that drain on the Federal treasury.

  9. Vladimir says:

    Perhaps Paul is correct that the Michigan brand was only monetized at the stadium in the last two decades but it was the UofM athletic director Don Canham that moved the school and according to some the NCAA towards modern marketing practices. I once saw an interview with one of Roots Canada’s founders (Naomi Klein was also on the panel talking up No Logo). He made the point that his research had shown that it was U of M that had played a leading role establishing brand merchandising. I would also add that the Detroit Lions are the most prominent alternative for football fans in the area.

    • Paul Campos says:

      Canham was indeed famous for bringing modern marketing practices to college football, but interestingly he never raised ticket prices in real terms. His goal was rather to fill the stadium every Saturday — something which in itself enhanced the game day experience. By comparison Dave Brandon and his ilk are Don Draper on steroids.

  10. C.S says:

    Is it just me, or was anyone else surprised that tickets were that cheap?

    • C.S says:

      And by “that cheap” I mean the current ticket price.

    • Warren Terra says:

      A seat at a football game – in theory, a communal experience, as you’d get a better view of the game at home – starts at $130, more for better seats. And even that’s not so: it’s really almost $1000 for seats at seven games, pro-rated to the rate for one game. And you have to have that as a lump sum, and a year in advance.

      I don’t know what a scalped (or legally resold) ticket would run (for shorter notice, and individual sale), but based on the above numbers it doesn’t seem likely to be much under $200 a ticket.

      You’re free to find that cheap if you want to. I’ll just note that for the cost of four people going to a single game you could buy a television and a sofa, and still have money left over for beer and snacks. For the cost of a couple of season tickets, you could buy the biggest TV I’ve ever seen, a couple of sofas, a grill, and beer and snacks for a dozen of your best friends all season long.

  11. brad says:

    Clearly, college football needs a salary cap so teams can afford to offer premium seats to the average fans.

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  13. witless chum says:

    Its interesting that bigtime college stadiums have kept getting bigger, despite all this and NFL stadiums have been shrinking. Michigan (always) and Michigan State (mostly) sell out 100,000 and 75,000, while the Lions actually shrunk their number of seats from 82,000 to 65,000. The colleges are playing at least seven home games every year and the Lions play eight, but it’s a stark difference in how many people wish to pay to go to a college game than an NFL game. I went to a Lions game last in 2008, I think, and the cost was similar.

  14. advocatethis@yahoo.com says:

    Then there’s the Cal Fiasco . In the midst of the tenure of their most successful football coach in, well, ever, they decide that the school is now big time and deserves a state of the art giant stadium. Problem is the coach is now gone, the football program is in the doldrums again, and bay area football fans, even ones who graduated from Cal, are frontrunners. Nobody’s going to fork over $40k for the privilege of watching the team in perpetuity.

    Why do I feel that somebody’s going to try to shift this cost to the taxpayers, who never had any say in it?

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  16. andrew says:

    Anyone know of a good source to find historic ticket prices?

    I’m taking a look at charting ticket prices vs. home strength of schedule – basically want to quantify how the average fans “bang for their buck” has decreased over the past couple of decades; particularly under DB

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